Stress for the Holidays
Although the year may be coming to a close, the holidays are only beginning, and the mad dash to order within the arrive-in-time shipment dates is in full swing. While affectionately dubbed ‘the most wonderful time of the year,’ it is no secret that, for many of us, the holidays are also a time for winter wipeout: as the calendar moves toward December 25th, the wipeout of bank accounts and diet routines picks up its pace, and stress begins to set in.
Holiday Induced Stress
Stress has become so much a part of our holidays that it is nearly impossible to separate the two. Hollywood and the Hallmark Channel make use of this in countless movies and specials capitalizing on holiday stress for plot convenience. And we, like the characters in those productions, miss flights, deal with long lines in stores, and fight our way through throngs of deal-hunting holiday zombies. We hope to convert just one Scrooge-like character from a life of holiday hatred, while trying not to leave behind one of our kids while the rest of the family goes out of town. While the most iconic embodiment of the frenzy of Christmas, little Kevin McAllister who was left home alone, doesn’t really happen very often (and when it does, it’s all over the news), the stress of the season is part of our culture. Although it may be played for laughs, portrayals of stress these movies consider to be a lump of coal are actually nuggets of truth.
According to a survey from Think Finance, forty-five percent of Americans would prefer to skip Christmas altogether.
The Stress Shopper
Americans struggle with severe anxiety and stress during the holidays, rooted in living up to expectations and ideals and trying to make ends meet. From the fear of not finding the perfect gift to waiting until the shelves are nearly empty to even begin looking, one of the primary causes of holiday stress comes from the pressure to put presents under the tree. One study concluded that on average Americans will spend approximately $1,400 on Christmas gifts — and with a number like that it is easy to see where the anxiety begins.
Despite mounting debt, people feel pressured to find the best gift at the best price, a prime reason why days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday loom so large on everyone’s shopping calendar. With all of the deals splattered across storefronts and flooding our inboxes, people tend to overspend when lured in by the hype and mad dash of fleeting deals. Add that to family and in-laws coming to town, logistically planning celebrations and meals, and juggling festivities all season and you have the perfect recipe for stress.
Stress and the Body
But how does stress impact the body? Studies have shown that excessive stress can lead to a variety of health problems ranging in short-term and long-term effects. Seasonal depression is extremely common in the winter months. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin, the chemical that controls mood, which may trigger depression and cause social withdrawal, insomnia, agitation, and in some cases can lead to substance abuse. Studies show that stress shoppers are also 86 percent more likely to eat to cope with stress. Because sweet treats are more readily available around the holidays, this pattern of overeating can also create an increased feeling of guilt and thus cause a new sense of anxiety around gaining unwanted weight. The same study showed that stress shoppers who indulge in eating as a form of a coping mechanism are 76 percent more likely to worry about their weight as a result.
Stress and Sleeplessness
Stress also can cause insomnia, a condition that yields its own set of problems. A 2016 survey of around 440,000 Americans concluded that about a third of adults don’t get enough sleep, with 65% averaging 7 hours a night and the remaining 35% even less. Lack of sleep can cause irritability and an inability to focus. Sleep deprivation due to stress creates a whole new series of problems once behind the wheel. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention cited An estimated 1 in 25 adult drivers (aged 18 or older) report having fallen asleep while driving in the previous 30 days. Perhaps that’s why so many fast coffee joints exist around the US.
Stress and Pregnancy
For women who are pregnant, added pressure can also impact their baby’s health. Mothers who undergo frequent, high-level bouts of stress can actually be forced into premature labor. Our bodies release hormones in response to threats that the body perceives — the higher the stress level, the more hormones our body produces. When a body is in stress, hormones such as the corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), is released and secretes into the brain. In pregnant women, CRH helps to regulate the length of a pregnancy. CRH naturally rises near the end of the third trimester to stimulate contractions and prepare the body for labor. A study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1999 revealed that women who delivered prematurely reported high levels of stress and were found to have high CRH levels early on in their pregnancy. Statistically, these premature births have been higher in women of color.
Unwinding from Stress
So the question remains: How can we destress during the holiday season? Or better yet, how can we cut down on the stressful side of shopping? One way to cut down on the stress of overspending is to employ a way of tracking purchases and setting a budget.
There are dozens of financial trackers available in the app store. Once you’ve begun your purchasing you’ll be able to log how much you’re spending and keep up with a budget you’ve set beforehand. If money is tight, take advantage of seasonal sales but be sure to keep up with how much is being spent.
Find time to indulge in activities that relax you without needing to spend extra money. This could be as simple as taking a bubble bath or cozying up for a holiday flick with your family and friends. Distract yourself by making time for things you enjoy with people you love. Keeping active is another way to relieve stress, whether it be walking or a prenatal yoga class. The biggest thing to remember about shopping stress is that the thought counts — the holidays don’t need to be perfect, so why to strive to make it so and harm yourself in the process? This season, make the focus of your holiday on those you love and are thankful for and leave the stress on the stoop.
Contributing blog writer: Alexandria Dent, a HealthLynked staff writer.
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The information in this blog post is sourced from:
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